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    Anders Hayden
    Sharing the Work, Sparing the Planet

    from The Jobs Letter No.153 / 3 October, 2001

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    THIS BOOK CONTAINS numerous examples of creative ideas for sharing the work in our communities and balancing our personal quality of life. Anders Hayden is the research and policy co-ordinator for the Toronto-based 32 hours action coalition that advocates both working and consuming less. He argues that making ecological sustainability our first economic priority can provide a practical strategy for job creation as well as the expansion of our leisure time.

    Sharing the Work, Sparing the Planet is a comprehensive, well-documented study of the wide range of reduced work-time initiatives that have been implemented in industrialised nations during the last 10 years. At times controversial, Hayden moves beyond pitting the protection of the environment against the protection of jobs and argues the case for a green economic and social vision.

    Work time reduction is most commonly thought of in terms of a shorter working week, but Hayden covers a much wider range of possibilities including parental or educational leave, phased in or partial retirement, sabbaticals, longer holidays and any number of other ways of reducing work hours over the a human lifetime. These other options allow for flexibility for both employers and employees to work different schedules at different times in their lives.

    Work time reduction is seen as an ecologically sound response to the employment crisis. Hayden advocates less consumption and more thought about environmental and socially sustainable job creation. His chapter on world unemployment, social unrest and environmental degradation makes sober reading and he argues that the solutions of frugality and individual life style changes, though needed, cannot be divorced from a larger political project to ensure an equitable sharing of wealth.

    Hayden points out that work time reduction is a future that has a history. At other times in our past, technological advancement has been met with demands for greater leisure. He documents this history from May 1st 1886, when demonstrations for the eight-hour day were held in major industrial cities of the United States, through to the current call for work time reduction.

    However some work time reduction strategies such as making machines `sweat' to the limits of their capacity and the problem of increased leisure time providing more time to consume, sit uneasily with an ecological vision and has led to some green suspicion of shorter work hours as a strategy for sustainability and employment creation.

    Hayden argues that the greatest obstacle to work time reduction is the dominance in industrialised nations, of a culture consumed by growth. This culture has produced a business sector resistance to shorter hours and a state sector focused on reducing welfare. Coupled with falling wage rates, these strategies mean families work longer hours to meet their daily needs. — JF

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  • From the book ... ONE KEY REASON for the abrupt halt in the trend towards shorter hours in North America was the rise of consumerism. A "new economic gospel of consumption" was successfully promoted and the idea that people can ever have enough was largely dismissed. The promotion of pseudo_needs through advertising and emulation played a part in this, but the drift to consumerism was more than a "capitalist plot"…. mass consumption was quite willingly embraced by the masses.

    Rather than accepting that the economy had reached a certain maturity and that future progress should be in the form of freedom from work, the state introduced a set of measures to promote growth and generate more work for more freedom.

  • As a self-contained matter, there is no great difficulty in designing policies that would effectively bring down unemployment ... such policies would include reducing the size of would-be employees by lengthening the period of education, advancing the age of retirement, shortening the workweek or workday, expanding vacations and introducing training sabbaticals or encouraging employment by generating public projects ...

    Unfortunately, the pursuit of unemployment policies cannot be self-contained. The problem is the ability of any one country being able to cope with technological unemployment as it runs up against the constraints of globalisation.

  • Perhaps a greater long-term concern is that a more socially progressive structure that promotes employment and economic growth will come at the expense of greater environmental degradation. Capitalism now faces two crises: "overproduction " in the economic sense of a growing gap between productive capacities and the purchasing power of the majority of the population, and "overconsumption" in the environmental sense of excessive demands being made on nature. Solving overproduction by creating conditions for a new pro-growth regime for the world will almost certainly intensify the problem of overconsumption.

  • The need for an alternative version of progress is based on two parallel arguments. First, the emphasis on growth and consumption will not give us what we want (the welfare critique). Second, for reasons of ecological sustainability and global equity, the affluent in the North need to redefine what it is we want (the environment critique).

    ... The goals of Work Time Reduction — if it is to serve ecological ends — should ultimately be to find an alternative to the growth of production and consumption rather than to stimulate it, to create leisure as an autonomous space outside of the market rather than as a new source of market opportunities, and to start subverting the machine of capitalist consumerism rather than to simply make that machine work more equitably and smoothly.

    History shows that progress on Work Time Reduction can occur in great, international leaps forward — as with the spread of the eight-hour day in 1917-19. It is too early to tell where the new wave of demands and initiatives for Work Time Reduction in Europe will lead, but there are solid grounds for hope that we could well be experiencing another great historical moment of advance on this vital front.

    andershayden.jpg.jpg Sharing the Work, Sparing the Planet
    — Work Time, Consumption & Ecology

    by Anders Hayden
    ((published by Between the Lines Canada, Pluto Press Australia, and Zed Books Ltd 1999))
    ISBN 1-896357-28-8
    available from

    more information on 32 hours: Action for Full Employment is available from

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